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Giants in the Earth

O.E. Rölvaag

Book I, Chapter II—"Home-Founding"

Book I, Chapter I—"Toward the Sunset"

Book I, Chapter III—"Rosie!—Rosie!"

Summary

As Hans Olsa builds his sod house, he stops every now and then to look for Per Hansa's caravan on the horizon. He worries that Per may have gotten lost. Nearby, other settlers are building their houses. Hans, his wife, Sorine, and daughter, Sofie—along with their neighbors Syvert Tonseten and his wife Kjersti, and two American-born bachelor brothers, Henry and Sam Solum—have formed a small Norwegian-American settlement on the prairie. The pioneers traveled together with the Hansas from Minnesota to their destination along Spring Creek. They now all wait anxiously for the Hansas to arrive.

Sorine asks her husband Hans if he has seen Per Hansa's caravan, and she can tell that her husband is nervous about the fact that the Hansas have not arrived yet. She suggests that Hans go look for them, but he tells her that he would not know where to look. Suddenly, Tonseten arrives and tells Hans and Sorine that he has spotted the Hansas in the distance. They all make preparations to greet Per and Beret.

When the Hansas finally arrive, everyone welcomes them with open arms. Everyone seems to be in good spirits except Beret. Per and Beret's reactions to the land differ dramatically. Per compares the prairies to the fertile lands of Egypt, while Beret is unimpressed by the land. In fact, she is appalled by how immense and desolate the place looks. Above all, she is afraid of the fact that there is nothing to hide behind. Hans tells Per that he has already set aside a section of land for Per; the two friends will be neighbors. Sorine prepares a big meal for everyone, and the group celebrates the Hansas' arrival.

Per wants to go look at his land, and Hans tells Per to go to Sioux Falls as soon as possible to fill out a claim to the land. Per, Tonseten, and Hans look at Per's land, and they discover an Indian grave on it. The next day, Per and the Solum boys go to Sioux Falls to file his claim. The date on the claim is June 6, 1873.

Meanwhile, Beret and her children make preparations for their home while Per is gone. Beret feels lonely and uneasy about the land. She recalls the trip to America, how they left Norway, briefly settled in Quebec, and then pushed westward until they finally reached their destination. The children interrupt her reverie by telling her that they have found the Indian grave. Beret feels even more frightened about the land than before.

Per returns from Sioux Falls. He is wrapped up with plans for building a house and plowing the land, and he thinks that everything seems like a fairy tale. He decides to plant some potatoes that he bought in Sioux Falls right away. Beret tries to tell Per about her fears, but she feels that she cannot get through to him. He wants to do everything possible to make his wife feel comfortable, as he knows she is going to have another baby soon.

Per starts plowing the land, and he works like a horse. With the help of Ole and Store-Hans, he breaks up the sod that he will use to build their home. Soon, Per begins to build their sod house and continues to work night and day on the fields and the house. Beret wants Per to rest, but he continues working every minute he can spare. When Tonseten first sees Per's house, he feels that Per is crazy for building such a large dwelling. He thinks that Per must be building a sod mansion. However, Per has merely chosen to build a house and barn together under one roof rather than build two separate structures.

Per decides to make a trip to the Sioux River to fetch some wood that he will need for a roof and for winter fuel. Beret feels lonely again while Per is away, but he returns shortly with a big supply of lumber and other wonderful things, including six plum trees and some meat and fish.

Analysis

In this chapter, Rölvaag introduces a recurring motif by comparing the Norwegian immigrants of the novel to the Israelites of the Old Testament. According to the Bible, God led the Jews from persecution in Egypt to reach their new home in Israel, the Promised Land, after years of wandering in the desert. Like the Israelites, the Norwegian immigrants of the novel have left their homeland expecting to find their own version of the Promised Land in the Great Plains. However, the immigrants are ignorant to the fact that they will have to endure many hardships, just as the Jewish people endured in the desert, before they can finally reach the land of milk and honey.

Throughout his novel, Rölvaag stresses the hardships the early pioneers of the Great Plains faced. The pioneer families of the novel literally possess nothing aside from their determination and whatever earthly goods they could transport in their covered wagons as they made the journey west. The common dwellings for many early settlers of the American West were sod houses, built out of the very earth itself by cutting and stacking layers of tough dirt like bricks. Because the prairie was treeless, lumber was scarce and expensive. The earth, however, was free. The settlers built their sod homes with thick brick walls to protect them from the environment, which ranged from hot summer to bitterly cold winters. As the immigrants of the novel discover, however, the environment and landscape prove to be only two of the major obstacles they have to overcome to build a new life on the lonesome prairie.

Although many events and incidents occur in Giants in the Earth, Rölvaag is ultimately more concerned with characterization than plot. In this chapter, he further characterizes the two protagonists, Per and Beret. The moment when the couple first see their new home is an important one, as it reveals the contrasting personalities of the two characters and provides hints of the major conflict of the novel. Assailed by fears and dismay, Beret conveys her dislike of the place. Her thought that "there isn't even a thing that one can hide behind" becomes the main fear that obsesses her. Beret finds the silence of the prairie and the large open spaces depressing and terrifying, and she cannot adjust to the environment that is so different from Norway.

Per, on the other hand, is a strong, determined, visionary character. He works hard to build a new life in America because he feels overjoyed by the fact that he actually owns a piece of land for himself. He thinks so highly of his land that he compares it to the land of biblical Egypt, the land of milk and honey, when he first sees it. Whereas Beret is the realist, Per is the romantic. He frequently refers to his land as his kingdom, as he feels like royalty in America because he is in charge of his own destiny. Nothing seems to be too much for Per, who works every minute that he can spare. The fact that he possesses such a grandiose vision is further evidenced by the fact that he builds such a large house and makes such elaborate plans for his land. He becomes the first settler of the area to plant his crops and the first one to plant trees on his land.

We may feel that the Indian grave on Per's land indicates a bad omen or sign of bad luck. Because Beret is more superstitious than Per, she feels more troubled than he does about finding the grave. The fact that there is an Indian grave on Per's land also foreshadows the later appearance of Native Americans in the novel.

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